Tag Archives: Giles Milton

2017 Roundup and list of Books Reviewed

This year I continued daily posts, which I have done for just under four years now.  Overall, traffic to the blog was up about 18% over 2016.

As always, the coverage is mainly review and commentary on topics of interest to me, including “the new way of work”, robots, dinosaurs, cryptocurrency/blockchain, quantum cryptography, internet of too Many things, computer software in general, and so on.

This year I continued weekly posts noting and commenting on books I have read.  Most of the books were recently published, with a few older ones.   (Listed below.)

Throughout the year, I offered a number of “great names for a band”, in tribute to Dave Barry who pioneered the genre.  Most of these are “sciency”, inspired by technical articles I read and commented on.

Countershading
Banded tail
Dinosaur bandit mask
Paleocoloration
Beryllium hydride
Biomimetic Robotic Zebrafish
Chicxulub    [Note:  pronounced ( /ˈtʃiːkʃʊluːb/; Mayan: [tʃʼikʃuluɓ])]
The Chicxulub Event
We Are Children of Chicxulub
Thanks to Chicxulub
Brought to You By Chicxulub
Service Office Industry
Comfortable edgy fit outs
As Greenland Darkens
Recent Mass Loss
Larsen C
My Raptor Posse
A Rip of Raptors
Personal Raptor
The Robot Raptor Revue
Final Five Orbits
Kuiper Belt & Braces
A Belt of Kuiper
The Grand Finale Toolkit
Fog World Congress
Penguin Guano

Adelie Census
Fog Orchestra
Shape Changing Fog Screen
The Fog and the Eye
First Ringplane Crossing
Grand Finale Dive #2
The Grand Finale Toolkit
Last View of Earth
Final – and Fateful – Titan Flyby
Robots On Europa
Gay Robots on Europa


Books Reviewed in 2017

Overall I posted 79 book reviews, 58 fiction and 21 non-fiction.

In fiction, these include old favorites (Donna Leon, Charles Stross, Thomas Perry, Tim Dorsey, Ian McDonald, Gregory Maguire, Tom Holt).

Some new favorites include Richard Kadrey,  Viet Thanh Nguyen, Emma Straub.

I really liked Robin Sloan’s Sourdough, and Touch by Courtney Maum, but my best reads for the year have to be

Joe Ide,  IQ and Righteious.  <<links>> Righteous by Joe Ide

In non-fiction, I liked Weird Dinosaurs by John Pickrell and Eugenia Chengs Beyond InfinityHow America Lost Its Secrets by Edward Jay Epstein is both good and important.

<<links>>

But at the top, I’d probably pick

The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness by Paula Poundstone

List of Books Reviewed

Q4

Fiction

First Person Singularities by Robert Silverberg
The Adventurist by J. Bradford Hipps
Artemis by Andy Weir
Hiddensee by Gregory Maguire
Willful Behavior by Donna Leon
A Selfie As Big As The Ritz by Lara Williams
Righteous by Joe Ide
Shylock is My Name by Howard Jacobson
The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson
Border Child by Michel Stone
Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
The Muse by Jessie Burton
Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Non-fiction

Napoleon in Egypt by Paul Strathern
After Piketty edited by Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong, and Marshall Steinbaum

Books Reviewed In Q3 2017

Fiction

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
The Answers by Catherine Lacey
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
The Management Style of Supreme Beings by Tom Holt
The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross
Shiver Hitch by Linda Greenlaw
Dichronauts by Greg Egan
Killing is My Business by Adam Christopher
The Painted Queen by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess
Standard Hollywood Depravity by Adam Christopher
Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher
Will Save Galaxy For Food by Yahtzee Croshaw
Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore
Arlington Park by Rachael Cusk
Transition by Rachael Cusk
Death at La Fenece by Donna Leon
A Sea of Troubles by Donna Leon

Non Fiction

Giant of the Senate by Al Franken
Weird Dinosaurs by John Pickrell
Made With Creative Commons by Paul Stacey and Sarah Hinchli Pearson
How Not To Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg
Beyond Infinity by Eugenia Cheng

Books Reviewed Second Quarter

Fiction

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente
Touch by Courtney Maum
Mother Land by Paul Theroux
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
Startup by Doree Shafrir
Off Rock by Kieran Shea
The Wrong Dead Guy by Richard Kadrey
Earthly Remains by Donna Leon
The Underwriting by Michelle Miller
Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald
Huck Out West by Robert Coover

Non-Fiction

Half-Earth by Edward O. Wilson
The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams
Solve For Happy by Mo Gawdat
The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness by Paula Poundstone
Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale
The Spider Network by David Enright
Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton

Books Reviewed Q1 2017

Fiction

Revenger by Alistair Reynolds
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Girls by Emma Cline
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
The People’s Police by Norman Spinrad
IQ by Joe Ide
Clownfish Blues by Tim Dorsey
The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Empire Games by Charles Stross
The Cold Eye by Laura Anne Gilman
Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
The Golden Gate by Robert Buettner
The Old Man by Thomas Perry
Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson

Non Fiction

The Caliphate by Hugh Kennedy
The New Better Off or Reinventing the American Dream by Courtney E. Martin
How America Lost Its Secrets by Edward Jay Epstein
Valley of the Gods by Alexandra Wolfe
Wonderland by Steven Johnson
Measure for Measure by Thomas Levenson


That’s all for 2017!  Happy New Year!

 

Housekeeping: Second Quarter Roundup, Books Reviewed

A bit of housekeeping at the end of Q2.

The usual

This quarter has seen daily posts, a steady stream of comments on research papers* and general articles on favorite topics including blockchains, the new economy, solar power, environmental sensing, computer security, and “brilliantly executed BS”.

I’ve begun to pay attention to Quantum Computing, which is surely a coming thing.

And Robots! And Dinosaurs!

*Note: discussion of scientific and technical research always refers to the primary sources.


Books Reviewed This Quarter

A summary of the books reviewed in the second quarter.

Fiction

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente
Touch by Courtney Maum
Mother Land by Paul Theroux
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
Startup by Doree Shafrir
Off Rock by Kieran Shea
The Wrong Dead Guy by Richard Kadrey
Earthly Remains by Donna Leon
The Underwriting by Michelle Miller
Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald
Huck Out West by Robert Coover

Non-Fiction

Half-Earth by Edward O. Wilson
The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams
Solve For Happy by Mo Gawdat
The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness by Paula Poundstone
Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale
The Spider Network by David Enright
Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton


Some ideas for band names

 Following the lead of Sensei Dave Barry, I occasionally suggest names for bands.

This quarter’s harvest include:

Penguin Guano
Adelie Census
Fog Orchestra
Shape Changing Fog Screen
The Fog and the Eye
First Ringplane Crossing
Grand Finale Dive #2
The Grand Finale Toolkit
Last View of Earth
Final – and Fateful – Titan Flyby
Robots On Europa
Gay Robots on Europa

 

 

 

Book Review: “Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” by Giles Milton

Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton

Giles Milton recounts the history of a little known group of irregulars who developed unconventional weapons and warriors, and ran sabotage and guerilla operations in occupied Europe. We all know about British commandos, the SOE and the SAS, and all that. Those are the “official unofficials”. But Churchill set up and funded this group totally outside the armed forces and even the SOE. Indeed, this unnamed group preceded and  inspired the creation of the British special forces and the US OSS.

Facing a desperate all-in war against Hitler, Churchill wanted to deploy sneaky and nasty weapons and people to win at all costs. To do this, he called on an amazing assortment of extremely eccentric geniuses, with a flair for deadly gadgets, lethal fighting, and brilliant scheming.

When you say “the most eccentric boffins from all of the British Empire”, you are talking about eccentric eccentrics!

This group pioneered limpet mines, shaped explosives, hedgehog anti-submarine mortars, and a variety of pre-digital timers, detonators, and fuses. They not only invented them, they created assembly lines, and also equipped and deployed teams through out Europe and other theaters. They also collected experts in the destruction of every kind of machinery and infrastructure known to the industrial age, as well as terribly efficient methods of killing. A vertically integrated war machine, outside the regular chain of command, reporting directly to Churchill.

I found the book interesting because I already I had read of many of the incidents and missions (the delivery of Enigma from Polish intelligence, the Norsk Hydro heavy water raid, the commando assault on St. Nazaire, the Jedburghs on D-day). But I had never heard of this off-the-books group who played such a key role in these and other operations.

This omission is not due to official secrecy (after all, we know a lot about the secret war), it is surely due to the fact that they were a creature of Winston Churchill. These guys were heartily disliked by  many of the regular forces and the  bureaucracy. At the end of the war, Churchill was voted out, and his boffins were promptly closed down and erased from official history.

Of course, their ethos and achievements have lived on in real life (the CIA and US DOD picked up the mantle of irregular warfare), and in fiction and popular culture. There is little doubt that the James Bond stories were influenced by what Ian Fleming knew of this operation and its characters. These latter day pirates are surely a source for agent 007, and the mad scientists are obviously one of the models for Q. Milton tells use that Joan Bright, one of the original staff, and who dated Ian Fleming (among others), is one of the inspirations for Miss Moneypenny.

As I read this book, I kept thinking of the old Avengers TV show, too. In these episodes, Steed and Mrs. Peel would often fetch up at some old country house which turned out to full of mad old birds (often with beautiful upper class accents), who were blowing stuff up in very exotic ways.  The real life labs at The Firs and elsewhere were surely a model for this popular trope.

One limitation of this book is that Milton gives fairly facile and shallow psychological sketches of these very, very odd people. In some cases, he is working from official files, and other cases from biographical recollections, which are probably blinkered by policy and filtered by the cultural biases of the writers.

I can’t help but have a lot of questions and some speculative theories about these people.  Outside of a total war, many of these guys and gals would be considered clinically insane. Some of them seem to be dangerously depressed and many are clearly manic. Several might be diagnosed on the autism spectrum today. Some had clear issues with substance abuse. There are at least a few folks who were probably gay, but Milton’s sources could not or would not say so. And so on.

Overall, I found this to be a pretty good read, though it certainly helped that I have read quite a little about the war and the clandestine services. Much of this would be really hard to follow from the book alone.


  1. Giles Milton, Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat, New York, Picador, 2016.

 

Sunday Book Reviews